It's been a full couple of months since Altona's new Emergency Coordinator came on the job.
Retired police chief, Perry Batchelor, took over the role in September after Town Council opted to return to having a local person in the position. The Town had contracted an outside agency to look after the duties for the last number of years. Being local, noted Batchelor, is a benefit.
"If you think about the Spring flood, the Municipal Emergency Coordinator at the time had to come out of Winnipeg. Fortunately, Highway 75 wasn't closed at that point so they could get down here. If it was an ice storm or some other disaster that makes it very difficult for them to come out, having local on the ground is obviously preferred," he explained, noting the performance of the coordinator from the outside agency was outstanding.
While having a local person serve as Emergency Coordinator may be preferred, it isn't always a possibility for municipalities. Batchelor explains, the training and experience requirements make it difficult. As a result, part of his plan while in the role is to develop a succession plan.
Meantime, Batchelor has been involved in training through the Manitoba Association of Municipal Emergency Coordinators (MAMEC), supplementing the experience he's gleaned from his years with the Canadian Armed Forces and in law enforcement. That training will continue into 2023, and Batchelor will also be attending a series of conferences.
Working alongside the local emergency response control group, which consists of the Town's fire and police chiefs, Public Works Manager, Chief Finance Officer, Chief Administrative Officer and Public Information Officer, Batchelor has also been updating an emergency plan and budget that is approved annually by Council.
Now, Batchelor and the local team will look to conduct a tabletop emergency exercise later in the year, as required by the Province. That exercise could be as simple as opening the Emergency Operations Centre and performing a walk-through of how to respond in a certain incident.
"Heaven forbid, a tornado hits in the northwest corner of town. It's a heavily populated area, we've got schools and parks and those kinds of things. Then you can get into how you're going to evacuate areas and so forth," explained Batchelor.
Municipalities are also required to run a live disaster exercise every two years, and the intent, noted Batchelor, is that Altona will be able to use the very real scenario of the Spring 2022 flood to meet that mandate until 2024.
"It ticked a lot of boxes because, in particular, Public Works worked extremely hard during that event, and it allowed the Emergency Operations Centre to open and work out a lot of the bugs. Our communications were good, our process of obtaining resources was good," he said.
Moving ahead, Batchelor will be working with the local emergency response group to expand its list of available resources in the event of a disaster or emergency.
"We've got some tremendous companies in the community, and Public Works will work on a list of where they can get large pumps to pump water. If there's a requirement for generators, where can we get generators in a hurry? Transportation - in the event of a major snowfall and we have to get people to work in hospitals or police stations - can we get some snowmobiles? Things like that."
For Batchelor, this list of resources is just as important as building a database of volunteers that can be called upon - another effort he will explore further in the future.
Meantime, there are things we can do as residents to prepare for an emergency or disaster, noted Batchelor, explaining that for the first 72 hours of such an incident we are responsible for our own well-being.
"People should think about, how would I survive in my house for 72 hours?"
For example, Batchelor said in the event of a tornado and the entire town loses power, all available resources will be stretched thin focusing on the worst-hit areas
"How are you going to survive? What is your plan? Those first 72 hours, you can't be phoning the Emergency Operations Centre saying you need food or heat. You have to plan for 72 hours. That's water, canned goods, a radio with batteries, a manual can opener, candles, matches," he explained. You can find more information on how to create a 72-hour emergency kit here.
Generators are another option, suggested Batchelor. However, he warns the units, along with any other back up appliances, need to be used safely.
As well, residents are encouraged to sign up for the Town's alert app, Connect, which allows officials to communicate via email, text and landline in the event of an emergency. Click here to register.